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The Last Bullet

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You know, it’s funny, lying in the grass looking up at the night sky like this, I almost feel like I’m home again. It’s a reminder of simpler times. A reminder of what once was. What could be again. I hear the others over there by the campfire, laughing, talking, telling each other tales of their time before the apocalypse. Before every day was a fight or die situation.

As far as I can tell by the mental calendar, it’s around day one hundred and seven. Not exactly sure, but around about that time. Three or four months sounds about right when you’re talking in terms of a normal timescale. These days I’m mostly used to getting three hours of sleep, and been woken up by Johnson for my turn on watch.

I reach out and touch the rifle that’s laying a few feet away from me, then turn my head to look at it. My dad’s rifle, although these days it's more a family heirloom than a weapon. I’ve only ever fired one bullet. The only bullet I will ever fire. That was one hundred and seven days ago.

The area where I grew up was mostly made up of forest, with manmade paths cutting through the trees here and there, leading the way back to the main streets. It was a small town. The kind of place where everybody knew each other.

Neighbours meeting for coffee, Sunday barbeques, that sort of thing. I used to go for walks in and around the forest, sticking mostly to the trees. Some of these walks I did by myself, and some of them I did with my dad. It was kind of a tradition we had whenever we both had had enough of society in general. We would just go out to the forest, getting some time to ourselves for a change. What was even better about it was that the walks usually happened when the Earth’s rotation had caused the sun to be cut off in the sky, seeming as though it was split in two. The time we humans called dusk.

We used to talk. Conversations about the future, the past, the family issues at the time. He used to tell me information I wouldn't otherwise know. It would range from the simple things of knowing what to do around the house, to the vast majority of the world’s history. A great many years we both spent walking through that forest. Those memories… They are the ones that hurt the most. Those memories are the ones which made what I had to do even harder.

It was a relatively short time period after the outbreak had spread worldwide. I’d say, around about a month of two after the initial collapse of civilised society had begun. The sun had gone down, and I was sitting at the table with my brother and sister. My mother was sitting in the arm chair by the T.V knitting the latest clothing item in a series of winter garments. She figured if we were going to make it through the winter without any heating, our normal jackets and winter clothing wouldn’t really be enough the protect us. The news anchor on the screen had just told the audience to be wary of their surroundings, to go out only when we needed to, and that the scientists were working on a cure.

All of us were on the edge. The news didn’t really tell you anything about exactly what this thing did to the people. How they went from normal human beings into these rage-filled zombie like creatures. But by then we had already witnessed the transformation first hand.

Mr. Lewis four houses down had been working in his garden.

He had been mowing the lawn when the symptoms had first shown. To this day I’m not sure why he felt that he needed to keep the garden in check when the rest of the world was going mad, but nevertheless, sticking to his week to week schedule, he was out there, cutting back the grass.

It started with a constant coughing, continuing until the man was doubled over. After that, was the headache which blurred his vision. He had tried to get up, stumbling over the lawn mower and falling onto his face. This was when the rest of us had been alerted to what was happening. The screaming started. His wife had rushed out to see him leaning against the brick wall that bordered the property, holding his head in his hands, and soon enough, the entire street was outside, my family and I among them. What came next, was not something any of us had expected.

His wife had gone over to see what was wrong. She was leaning down, trying to comfort the man, asking if he was okay. When she had reached out to touch him, that was when everything became a blur.

Mr. Lewis had whipped his arm out and grabbed his wife by the throat in an instant. She barely had time to come to terms with what had just happened, and as her hands started to rise to grasp her husband’s wrist, her head was torn from her body like tissue paper. Blood exploded from Mrs. Lewis like a fountain, covering everything from the garden to the side of the house. The man dropped what remained of his wife onto the paved walkway which led up to their front door, and turned to face the street. He was met with a crowd of shocked faces.

Everything about him had changed.

You see, Mr. Lewis was well known for not being the best man when it came to the job of breaking up fights, or any kind of conflict for that matter. He wasn’t a man that went to the gym, He didn’t work out causally, and he barely did any cardiovascular excises. The only muscle the man had on him was the power of his brain. He could think his way out of most situations.

The man standing before the crowd was not the man he was mere seconds before. He had taken on the form of somebody who had clearly been taking steroids, and too many.

His whole figure looked abnormally large. His chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders all looked blown up and disproportioned. The clothes he wore had been ripped, and parts of the skin and muscle were exposed. Veins stuck out everywhere like noodles that been inserted just under the first layer of the skin. His facial features had turned from that of living man into a cold, dead face and his head now looked too small for the body. He opened his mouth, and an animalistic roar like thunder echoed from his lungs. It was then that everybody in the street panicked. People went their separate ways, some running back to their houses while others simply ran in a direction that would get them away. I turned, and that’s when I saw my dad.

As far as my memory serves me, he was never a man to be violent. He barely hit us as children. In fact the only heated argument I had ever seen him in was when were at the gas station one time, and a man had taken his parking space.

However in that moment it seemed that he had let go of his policy to never be anything but peaceful.

He was standing there unmoving, not panicking, with a rifle in his hands. I watched him raise the weapon, aim and fire it. The gunshot rang out across the street and silence fell just as fast as the panic had risen. Everyone turned from my dad and back to Mr. Lewis, And as the body fell the only sound that could be heard was a hard thud on pavement. My dad didn’t say a word, but simply turned and walked back inside our house, leaving the creature the man had become lying there, blood seeping out of the bullet wound in the centre of his forehead.

After that day, people in the neighbourhood started turning one by one, and my dad was never the same. I wanted to ask him about what the whole thing was about with the shooting, but I never got up the confidence to do it. As for the outbreak, our friends, people we used to have dinner with, the kids in the street. They all feel victim to whatever this thing was.

I had a friend, Jake. A couple of years younger than me. We went to the same high school. He was a cool kid; he had luck as if he was invisible, like nothing could ever hurt him. But one day while I was up in my room I saw him. He wandered down the road and stopped in front of our house.

He was one of them.

He looked up at me, the pale white face that was no longer like I remember. The kid was gone, and what remained was monstrous, rotted. Twisting its facial muscles into an expression that could only be described as a longing hunger. I gave him a weak smile before the man across the street came out of his house, walked up behind Jake, and emptied a shotgun shell into his head at almost point blank range.

Two weeks after the incident with Mr Lewis, a patrol was set up in the street. Those who weren’t infected were given rifles, pistols, machetes, anything that could be used as a weapon against these creatures whatever they were. But it wasn’t completely changing how we lived that was the hardest part, it was not knowing when or where you would turn. There were some theories going around that it was caused by insect bites, others said it was in the air we were breathing. In the end, the hard truth of the matter was that none of us knew what caused the change, and we would just pray that we wouldn’t be next.

The news had frequently been showing these creatures attacking over the weeks. It looked like the rest of the world was having no better luck. Reporters carrying side arms while covering stories, the windows on city buildings rigged up with cage wire, cars in the street on fire. The only good thing that seemed to come out of all of it was that these things went down with one hit to the head.

The world was going to shit, and all we could do was watch it unfold through a twelve inch, one sided field of view.

Ironic really, we think the people we look up to know the answers, but in the end, we realise their exactly like us. Making do with what they have. Things continued this way… until that night came.

As I said at the beginning, I was sitting at the table with my siblings; my mother was in the arm chair. My dad, he was at the front window, looking out onto the street, seeing if anybody else had turned. By that time the inhabitants in the street had dwindled down to about sixteen or seventeen of us. Our family, the Wilsons across the street. Paul Thomas down the road, the old woman that lived next to us. A couple of others maybe. The rest of them were gone. The street was filled with mostly abandoned houses.

That week the lights had been flickering and frequent blackouts were occurring. The disaster was finally beginning to cut off the human race from the essential thing that separated us from nature.

Dad turned, and put the rifle back into the corner near the front door, then crossed from the window back to the kitchen, where a sandwich lay toasting on the pan.

"Everything okay dad?" He looked over at me as I asked the question, a serious look on his face. Picking up the cup of coffee beside the gas top on the bench, he raised it to his mouth, and gave me the answer before drinking.

"Nothing is wrong that I can see. Gary and Bob are on patrol. Other than that, everything seems like it should be okay."

"You need me to help with anything?"

"That’s alright, just look after the family for me." I nodded at him, and he smiled back at me. He had tried to hide the sadness in it, but I could see right through it. I’d learnt the difference between a genuine smile and a half-hearted one long before that time. Turning my attention back to the TV screen, I saw that the news has changed from the anchor to a location somewhere in a city. It showed footage of a bunch of swat and police officers spreading yellow police tape from one side of the street to the other, cutting of entrance into that part of the block. No one in the room said anything.

This is the fifth time we had seen this sort of thing happening, and each time we had lost a bit of hope that everything was eventually going to be okay.

"How much time until we can go outside again?" It was my little sister Maggie who spoke. I looked over at her and smiled.

She did the same, the gap in her teeth where her first tooth had recently come loose, shone out like a black sheep. I laughed, and looked back at the television screen.

That was when the first cough had escaped his lungs.

We all immediately looked his way. Over the weeks we had gotten used to listening out of the sound of any coughing whatsoever. He glanced up at us, his hand in the middle of his chest.

"I’m okay, don’t worry. Food went down the wrong way." My mother, brother, and sister all sighed in relief and turned their heads, but I kept my eyes on Dad. He looked up at me, his eyes suddenly beginning to tear up. He held his hand over his chest, and his facial expression… The facial expression. It was one of those times where words could not convey the message. Something where you know exactly what it means. I knew what I had to do even before he opened his lips to mouth the words.

"Get the rifle."

I got up out of the chair slowly and silently, trying not to alert my brother and sister to the fact that I was making for the front door. It was then, facing away from the rest of them that I felt the tears start to blur my vision. Lifting my left hand I wiped them away, and continued walking. Another cough escaped from Dad behind me. This time I let the tear flow freely. Getting to the front door and seeing the rifle in its usual place in the corner, I bent down and picked up.

A grunt of pain.

My mother asked him what was wrong, and he passed it off as acid reflux. By the tone in her voice, It was obvious that she didn’t believe him in the slightest. I turned to face the lounge room again, rifle in hand. Mum was already on her feet and across the room to where my dad sat, leaning against the basin and taps.

"James, what’s wrong?" There was no answer from him, only the reaction to the pain he felt through his lungs. He brought his hand up, and clutch his chest again. My mother suddenly noticed I was gone, scanned the room and saw me at the front door. That’s when she knew.

"No… No Max you can’t. Not your father." She turned back to him. By now my brother and sister were well aware of the situation. Their heads had been pulled from the screen, and the worried eyes of both of them were now darting between my mum, my dad, and me.

"I have to Mum, he’s going to turn…" My voice trailed off as tears filled my eyes. I wiped them away with a hand, steadying the rifle as best as I could. "He’s turning into one of them." I could no longer hold my tears in after that, and the crying began. My sister started then my brother, and then finally my mother. All of us, weeping for what we had seen happen to so many people. Weeping for the situation we were in. Weeping because we all knew what had to be done.

"Son…" Everybody stopped and turned to look at Dad. The pain he was going through clearly showing on his face. "Listen to me…" the voice was hard to hear through clenched teeth. He was clearly fighting off the urge to scream. Pushing himself up from the leaning position, he stood up, and spoke again. "You have to do it…"

Straight away my mother blurted out her words in protest. "No James…There has to be a different way…" My father cut off my mother with a sharp tone, turning his to face her.

"There’s no way to stop it! You know that! What the hell are you going to do? Hope I don’t turn? Wait for me to kill you all?" he doubled over as a shot of pain came over his body. Mum tried to help him, but it was clear that she was doing no good. After a couple of seconds he straightened himself up again and looked in my direction. The tears that were falling down his cheeks were clearly visible, and upon seeing them my mother cried harder.

"Max…" My eyes darted from my mother to my farther. "Don’t let me turn… Don’t let me become one of those things, your hear me? You shoot me. You shoot me and you don’t miss… Please son… Please. … For the… family…"

He turned to my mother.

"Sweetie." She hugged him. "I love you. Take care of the kids for me."

"Always." was my mother’s reply. Next up is were brother and my sister. He hugged them and told them that everything is going to be alright. Finally, he glanced at me.

"Max, you’ve always been a good kid. Don’t let this world change you." He clearly wanted to say more, but the pain took him once again. He screamed loudly, and when he did I began to see the skin on his arms start to change, the muscles start to rise and expand. He looked up at me again, his eyes turning a dark colour. "Do it son! Shoot me! Do it!" His voice took on more a bass filled dark tone, and I could see him struggling to hold on to his sanity. I raised the gun up slowly and looked through the scope, lining the crosshair with the centre of my father’s forehead.

"It’s okay Max." My mother’s voice. A sad sobbing mess, but nevertheless, the words were the ones that convinced me that I had to do it. "It’s okay Max… don’t worry it’s okay…" She continued saying this as the seconds went by, and I finally knew that I had no other choice. Wiping away a tear that streamed down my face, I looked down the rifles sights once again, picked my target, and pulled the trigger.

After that night, the system that had been setup in the street collapsed. More and more of the neighbours became those things, and more and more of the families of those people were forced to do what had to be done. Supplies started to run low, and the power may as well have been out permanently with the frequent blackouts.

"We need to get away from here, we need to find somewhere with a better setup." I had said one night at a town meeting I had organised. After I had shot my farther I had become something of a leader. Maturing to an adult inside faster than my mother thought possible. There were ten of us at that town meeting, the ten of us that were remaining, and we all argued about the idea that had been brought up. Debate had sprung up quickly on what exactly we would do after we ran out of supplies while on the road, each person having to say their individual thoughts before anyone made a decision. In the end, it was said that we would take our chances out in the world. Better than staying in that town and waiting for the end to come of starvation, thirst, or anything else that could get as close to killing us as slowly as it could.

So we gathered our things and took off, walking away from the town in which people had made their lives. Moving away from the places that we called our homes, and onto a path of hopeful salvation. Making our way toward something that could hopefully save us.

All that, that was one hundred and seven days ago, and as far as we walk, we still haven’t found what we’ve been looking for. All that time and not a trace of what once was. There is still the falling cities and groups of human residence out there, trying whatever they can to survive, but at the same time, there’s nothing. No hope. In the one hundred and seven days of the apocalypse, I’ve killed fifty-nine of those creatures. Some of them the people we took off with, others we met along the way. But as I lay here now, looking at the rifle and thinking of home, I know only one thing. That right now I’m okay. I’m fine. Its peaceful for this one moment on this planet. A destroyed earth. A piece of rock claimed by a virus. I’m safe, and for as long as this will last I don’t know.

I sit up, facing the trees that are directly ahead of me, and pick up my rifle. Slowly getting up from the ground, I turn, and walk over to where the group is huddled around the campfire. I see my mum, sitting opposite to the side I’m standing on, and when she looks up at me I see something that I haven’t seen since the night before I shot my dad. She’s smiling.

Her eyes meet mine, and I smile back at her. The gaze between us lingers for a couple of seconds, until my brother next to her offers a mug of something and she turns from me and takes it. I store the moment in my memory, and linger at the fire for a few seconds longer until I turn and head toward the border of our camp. Before going up to Johnson I make sure that the revolver I use for a main weapon is holstered at my side, and upon confirming that it is, I open my mouth.

"Hey Johnson, go and join the others, I’ll take watch." I finish my approach, and the man looks at me.

"You sure? Your shift doesn’t start for another forty five minutes."

"Yeah, it will be okay. Go ahead. They have some mugs of something over there. Might be coffee." Johnson looks over in the direction of the campfire. His facial features now visible in the light of the flames.

"Coffee? You serious? Where the hell did we get coffee?"

"I dunno, but you better hurry up if you want any. Looks like it's going quick." Johnson thanks me, and puts a hand on my shoulder as he walks out from the shade of the tree. I watch him walk over and sit down, then turn to face the blackness of the forest, hooking the rifle over my shoulder and resting a hand on the butt of the revolver. I breathe in, and breathe out slowly as I inhale the fresh air, savouring every moment of this night. Who knows when the next peaceful ten minutes may come along.

I breathe in. out. In. Out.

Then I feel a slight dull pain in my chest, and clear my throat.

The pain still lingers.

The first cough comes seconds later…

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